, Volume 31, Issue 2, pp 120-127

Effects of social stressors on cardiovascular reactivity in black and white women

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Abstract

Background: Behavioral scientists have theorized that perceived racism in social interactions may account for some of the observed disparities in coronary heart disease between Black and White Americans.Purpose: The objective was to examine whether racial stress influences cardiovascular reactivity, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.Methods: We measured cardiovascular responses in Black and White women (n = 80) as they talked about 3 hypothetical scenarios: (a) being accused of shoplifting (racial stressor), (b) experiencing airport delays (nonracial stressor), and (c) giving a campus tour (control).Results: Relative to White women, Black women had significantly greater mean diastolic blood pressure reactivity (3.81 vs. 0.25 mmHg; p < .05) in response to the racial stressor than in response to the nonracial stressor. Black women exhibited significantly lower heart rate during recovery following the racial stressor than during recovery following the nonracial stressor (−0.37 beats/min vs. 0.86 beats/min; p < .001). Among Black women, those who explicitly made race attributions during the racial stressor had greater systolic but not diastolic blood pressure reactivity than those who did not make racial attributions (8.32 mmHg vs. 2.17 mmHg; p < .05).Conclusions: These findings suggest that perceived racism in social interactions may contribute to increased physiological stress for Black women.

This work was supported by Grant CA91411 from the National Institutes of Health and a grant from the Professional Staff Congress of City University of New York. We are grateful for the excellent research assistance of Allyson Bunbury, Michael Gold, Mark Vegh, and Alex Libin. Teceta Thomas provided helpful comments on the article.